Mr. Misadventures and I were first lured to Cancale, a coastal fishing village and oyster capital of Brittany (and France), by an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (Season 5, Episode 22). The year was 2010 the place was Olivier Roellinger’s Chateau Richeux and the trip was unforgettable. Since then we have been back 4 times and the spell that Cancale holds over us has not been broken yet. Because I have spent so much time in Cancale, including using it as our home base for our most recent 10-day trip, I feel like I’ve got a good handle on this pearl (ok, I had to go there) of a spot along the Brittany coast. So here is my [unofficial] guide to [adventures and misadventures in] Cancale France.
While Cancale is generally known for one thing, it’s oysters, it is surrounded by quite a lot of natural beauty. On clear days you get a great view of Mont Saint-Michel in the distance, the hike in and out of Cancale on the GR34 trail is beautiful (especially Pointe du Grouin which people cannot get enough of!) and the beaches and camping in the surrounding communes are sandy and welcoming. It’s also an epicurean hot spot with the Chef Roellinger’s Les Maisons de Bricourt dynasty and the ever-growing French/Breton/Japanese empire of Bertrand Larcher. The 2 battle it out for excellence in local cuisine and hospitality and we, the guests, are the winners!
Cancale, the World is your Oyster!
So you can’t write about Cancale without writing about their oysters. Cancale in its very soul is an oyster (and fishing) village. The Romans started harvesting them on this conquered coast centuries ago, but it wasn’t only in the 1920s that cultivating oysters became something of economic value – as the rich Parisians began building homes on the Emerald Coast, the demand for oysters grew (oysters had traditionally been a favorite of French kings and nobility). There are 2 types of oysters cultivated in France, a native flat oyster (huître plate or Belon) and the rounded or hollow oyster (huître creuse) which was imported from Japan (see another connection with Japan). The flat oyster only makes up about 2% of the production as it was infected with a parasite in the 1970s, but thanks to a miraculous batch of them in another area of Brittany that was immune, a small amount has survived (and you can imagine they cost a little bit more). The oysters are grown on family farms in Cancale and Saint-Meloir-des-Ondes in cooperatives.
You can learn more about the history of oyster farming, how the oysters are harvested, do an oyster tasting and check out the oyster museum at the La Ferme Marine de Cancale / Marine Farm of Cancale (follow the signs from D76). Tours are conducted Monday through Friday at 3 pm in French and during the summer tourists season (July 1 through mid-September) Monday through Friday at 2 pm. You do not have reserve ahead of time and the price for the tour is 7.70 Euros (children and family rates available). The one thing you absolutely do need is boots, or wellies as the British call them, garden boots, etc. Those are kind of big (but not heavy) to fit in a suitcase. We actually bought a pair in the grocery store (Super U in Cancale) that were perfect.
You can also tour the oyster beds of Cancale with a naturalist. The tour conducted by the Tourist Office of Saint-Malo (why not Cancale? Don’t ask!) takes place at low tide at costs 8 Euros (4 for children). There is only room for 35 people so you need to book ahead. The tour is offered mainly on Mondays and Tuesdays in the afternoon (check the schedule) depending on the tide and time of year. You also need boots to do the tour.
One of the best places to try the local oysters is the Marché aux Huîtres / Oyster Market (2 Rue des Parcs) at the end of the port. Another cooperative selling fresh from the sea oysters right by the beds. They are fresher and cheaper than the restaurants and a fun show to watch. Since we started coming to Cancale they’ve also added a wine truck so you can enjoy a nice glass of wine with your dozen or 2.
What to Do and See in Cancale France
I like to use Cancale is a home base because it is a small town that is easy to get in and out of. It’s not complicated to get to a myriad of places so it makes a good hub for daily road trips and explorations. There are 2 distinct parts to Cancale, the port and the village center on a hill above the port. But there are also some surrounding communes (villages) that are folded in as well. There isn’t a ton to do but that’s why I think it makes a good trip headquarters if you know what I mean! The weather in Cancale is what it is throughout Brittany which reminds me very much of America’s Pacific Northwest so rainy and cloudy with a beautiful summer. We were there in spring so we had a mixture of sun, rain, and clouds. Primetime along the Brittany Coast, Emerald Coast, or Côtes-d’Armor (what the northern part of Brittany is called) is generally May to October.
The Port – La Houle
There are 2 sections to the port. The harbor where the oyster market, small lighthouse, and pier are and the more residential end where there are vacation homes. Occupying old fishing houses are restaurants, shops, and hotels which are on both parts of this strip. It is a nice little walk from one end of the port to the other. There is a roundabout that connects the 2 pieces and from that roundabout, you can walk up the hill to the town center.
From Cancale, you can grab a cruise on La Cancalaise. The traditional fishing boat in the region is called a bisquine and La Cancalaise is a replica of a bisquine called The Pearl (LE Perle) from 1905. They sail April 15th through October 15th on the Bay of Mont-St-Michel and have half-day (42 Euros) and full-day tours (75 Euros). Their website is in French but they do offer tours in French and English. You have to request a reservation by email or give them a call. They have an office in Cancale (La Halle à Marée 15 place du Calvaire) which is open from 2-5 (I know, bankers hours!) every day except Wednesday and Sunday.
During our most recent trip to Cancale, we stayed right smack dab in the center of town at the town square. It was amazing for access to restaurants, bakers, newspaper stores, small grocery stores, you name it! Everything was walkable and convenient. The port was a 15-minute walk down the hill (and back up!) There is a farmers market every Sunday from 8:30 to 12:30 as well. The market is behind the beautiful church. There is a little theater, a sailing museum, a cooking school, and shops but the best thing, people. We lived truly like a local for 10 days and it was great! I can’t say the same for the summertime but we never had a problem with parking and always found a spot near our condo.
GR34 – Sentier des Doaniers
GR stands for Grande Randonnée in French which means both Grande as in Big or Large and Grande as in Great and Randonnée is a hike. And the GR34 is exactly that. There are different parts and pieces but in total it is 1,700 km/1,056 miles long, starting in Vitré and ending in Tour-du-Parc, Morbihan. I would argue that some of the best pieces run right along the Emerald Coast. You can walk from Mont Saint-Michel to Cancale (9 m/15 km) and Cancale to Saint-Malo (10.5 m/17 km) with points such as the beautiful Pointe du Grouin along the way. We also hiked part of it at Fort La Latte in the Cap Frehel area. I love the sentier des doaniers – customs trails – they are beautiful, well kept up and I feel like I am walking on a part of history!
We have walked from Chateau Richeux down to the port in Cancale for lunch and back. The first 2 photos of the 3 above are from 2010 and when we hiked from the chateau to Cancale again last fall (last photo, 2018) it was just as beautiful. The trail runs along the cliffs and the coast and it is spectacular!
Beaches and Camping in Cancale
Because of our time in an RV and our love for camping, we always check out the campgrounds wherever we. stay someplace. Cancale has a TON of camping in the little communes surrounding the town on the coast. They are big ones too! I was very impressed with the size and facilities. Although I can’t help to think about the French movie “Camping” (it doesn’t take place anywhere near Cancale, but I always think about it nonetheless!
Here are the camping areas we took a peek at:
- Camping Bois Pastel (13 rue de la Corgnais)
- Camping de Loisirs Bel Air (50 rue du Stade)
- Camping Municipal de la Pointe du Grouin (located at you guessed it, Pointe du Grouin)
- Camping Notre Dame du Verger (La Ville Aumont)
The camping is good because there are beautiful coastal views and great, sandy beaches and dunes. Here are 3 beaches we checked out:
- Plage de la Saussaye (on the road to Saint-Coulomb) slightly steep path to get to it, but not as crowded as some of the other beaches (in the summer). Off-season, it really doesn’t matter!
- Plage du Guesclin (north of Saint-Coulomb, between the points of Grands Nez and Nid) the beach is visible from the road and has lifeguards in the summer.
- Plage De La Touesse (bay of Touesse in Saint-Coulomb) forest-lined road leading to a white sandy beach.
Best View of Cancale
Before reaching the city coming from Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes on D76 you will see there is a beautiful lookout over the port of Cancale. It is beautiful for sunrise and sunset and on clear days you can see Mont Saint-Michel off in the distance. It really is the best spot to capture the heart of Cancale!
Les Bordees is an annual festival celebrating the traditional maritime music of the region. It’s held in April and can be quite rowdy as you can imagine a festival with drinking and singing could be, but the hospitality and joviality of the festival make it so enjoyable!
Where to Eat in Cancale
Like most of the Brittany coast the food you will find in restaurants is going to lean towards, seafood and crepes. There is just such an abundance of fresh seafood to choose from, even in oyster town that you will be a happy camper if you are fond of gifts from the sea. If meat and potatoes are more your style, do not fret, there are great pork and beef in the region as well. For the sweet tooth, there are all the buttery pastries and salted caramel to keep you going!
Chef Olivier Roellinger Cancale – Les Maisons de Bricourt
We were introduced to Chef Roellinger through an episode of No Reservations. We came to stay at one of his hotels Chateau Richeux in 2010. It was a luxury stay and fine dining experience that remains on the top of my list of things I want to do over and over again. Olivier Roellinger was born in Cancale and after culinary school, he opened up a restaurant celebrating Breton ingredients. That restaurant would eventually earn itself 3 Michelin stars. But after a motorcycle accident that nearly took his life, he gave up his Michelin stars, traveled the world where he found a newfound passion for exotic spices and came back to open Le Coquillage inside of Chateau Richeux. From there came the empire that is well known in this part of France, Les Maisons de Bricourt.
From there has come several hotels, guest homes, restaurants, cooking school, spice shop, pastry shop and now a spa. I have not stayed in his other properties because Chateau Richeux is a little slice of heaven. A mansion on the cliff overlooking the sea with access to trails. There is a farm, a garden, and orchard and a bakery on premises, why would you ever want to stay anywhere else? But this section is about food. So I will tell you that the Roellinger team is fiercely dedicated to sourcing the finest local ingredients and supporting local farms. I still rate the breakfast I had for room service on one of our stays as one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had: bread from his onsite bakery with Brittany butter and Brittany preserves; sliced Brittany strawberries to accompany the fresh yogurt made from milk from Breton cows, some of the most delicate scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted and coffee from some corner of the world, and not the usual French arabica swill.
We’ve had 2 dinners at Le Coquillage. One was a tasting menu and one was a plateau royale (big beautiful tray of seafood). Both came with the dessert cart, something that Chef Roellinger is known for. There are no rules you can have as much dessert as you want – all or many, you choose your delight. It is where Mr. Misadventures met the millefeuille that he dreams about, that he compares all others to. The millefeuille that we have literally driven from Paris to Cancale (4 hours) to get. That is the food of Chef Roellinger.
Olivier Roellinger restaurants in Cancale:
- Le Coquillage (Le Buot, Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes) fine dining inside Chateau Richeux. Now a family-run affair with Chef Olivier’s son Hugo.
- Grain de Vanille (12 place de la Victoire) a pastry and coffee shop in centre ville. See the pastry section below.
BONUS: Not in Cancale but rather Dinard, Chef Roellinger has an ice cream and millefeuille shop called Vent de Vanille (3 bis Bd of President Wilson, in front of the Palais des Arts) where he experiments with his beloved spices.
Bertrand Larcher Cancale – BREIZH Café
Chef Bertrand Larcher is from Brittany and attended a very prestigious school in a coastal Breton town called Dinard. After opening restaurants in France he took off to Japan to open a creperie in Tokyo. Japanese cuisine and culture have definitely had an influence on his menu design. He now has restaurants in Paris, in Kyoto, in Saint-Malo and in 2018 he opened to cooking school in St-Malo for both professionals looking to learn how to create crepes and run a creperie and amateurs looking to take a fun cooking class. The first restaurant he opened in Cancale was the was Breizh Café which Mr. Misadventures and I had the pleasure of trying (and loving) in 2010. Taking a page from Chef Roellinger’s book, Larcher also opened the Michelin-starred La Table Breizh Café dedicated to Japanese cuisine with a partnership with chef Raphaël-Fumio Kudaka. Then he added a little hotel (guest rooms as they call them) in the same building. The empire continues to grow.
Bertrand Larcher restaurants in Cancale:
- Le Comptoir Breizh Café (7 Quai Admis en Chef Thomas) this spot still continues to have what we think is the best crepe in France. The sourcing of the ingredients is just incredible and while we may have had bad service from time to time (typical during busy times or holidays) we still keep coming back because it is just that good. The main chef (although he may have moved to the cooking school in Saint-Malo) is very talented, even married to a Japanese woman – that Japanese fusion runs deep in the Larcher organization – and he visits Japan at least every other year for inspiration. They have a fantastic selection of local cider and it is where we first discovered Domaine de Kervéguen cider.
- La Table Breizh Café (second floor – or 1st floor in France – of the same location) – we have yet to eat here but it is absolutely ON my bucket list for our next trip to Cancale. Since I love Japanese food and everything Chef Larcher does, I am sure it will be wonderful!
Creperies in Cancale
- Creperie du Port (Place du Calvaire) decent crepe, but if nothing else go for their well-known and loved rice pudding with salted caramel sauce!
- Mer’ et Fille (3 Rue de la Vallée Porcon, in center ville) we have eaten here several times, it was right across the street from our condo on our last trip! Good crepes and good prices.
- Ty Skorn Creperie (4 Place de la Chapelle at the port) everything is homemade and locally sourced, plus ice cream!
Other Cancale Restaurants
- La Mere Champlain (1 Quai de l’Administrateur en chef Thomas) casual seafood restaurant, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s fantastic. Best langoustine I’ve ever had came from there (on one visit).
- Le Bout du Quai (1 Chemin de la Corniche) seafood with a great view of the bay.
- Le Troquet (19 Quai Gambetta) contemporary bistro market-fresh ingredients and a focus on enhancing the natural flavors of each product. Also known for their far Breton (cake).
- Restaurant l’Atelier de l’Huitre (15 Quai Gambetta) not a huge menu, but super fresh oysters!
Pastries in Cancale
What a difficult task it was researching the best pastries in Cancale! We abandoned our low-carb lifestyle for a week and tried just about every pastry shop in town. Grain de Vanille will always be on top because of its Chef Roellinger roots, but I think just like any very popular place it has its good days and bad. We were visiting around Easter so you could see the frantic stress in their eyes and it came through in the quality of the pastries on some days, but they are still far superior to many, many places in the region. And Mr. Misadventures still dreams of their millefeuille. We also had very good pastries (and bread) from Boulangerie Pâtisserie Guyon (59 Avenue du Général de Gaulle) and Boulangerie Clouard (13 Rue du Port). While in Cancale make sure to try the Kouign Amann, Far Breton and galette Bretonne (Breton biscuits).
Where to Stay
There are a handful of hotel options in Cancale, the best ones being those that take advantage of the beautiful coastline. But there are also great oyster farm and farms that have been converted to accommodations that make great places to stay while visiting Cancale.
Hotels in Cancale
Chateau Richeux (Le Buot, Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes) luxury Relais-Chateau property on the cliff run by the Roellenger family.
La Mere Champlain (1 Quai de l’Administrateur en chef Thomas) classic inn with modern rooms facing the port.
Les Gîtes Marins (62 Rue des Rimains) little sea cottages run by the Roellenger family.
Guest Rooms at Breizh Café (7 Quai Admis en Chef Thomas) ocean-facing guest rooms facing the Cancale port, run by the Cafe Breizh team.
La Ferme du Vent (and Celtic Baths) (right next to Chateau Richeux) luxury standalone home for rent run by the Roellenger family. If I were to dream up a house to live in, this would be it.
The Rimains (62 rue des Rimains) 4-room inn on a cliff overlooking the sea run by the Roellenger family.
Airbnb Recommendations in Cancale
We have stayed in Airbnbs twice on visits to this area and enjoy the freedom we get from staying in “our own” place, no one will judge the number of Breton pastries we are eating! Here’s where we’ve rented:
Lodging between land and sea > a little addition to a farmhouse where an oyster lives, we stayed for a weekend, it is very small but cozy.
L’Arizona > a condo we rented for 10 days in downtown Cancale right across the street from Grain de Vanille (DANGEROUS).
If you don’t have an Airbnb account, consider using my affiliate link to get one. If you sign up for Airbnb with my link you will get $40 off your home booking. And get $15 to use toward an experience worth $50 or more.
How to Get to Cancale
Cancale By Car
There are 2 routes from Paris to Cancale by car. Saint-Malo is a 4.5-to-5-hour drive from Paris on major Autoroutes. The shorter route (depends on where you start in Paris) takes you on the A13 and the other on the A11 both of which will cost you about 35-40 Euros in tolls before you eventually find yourself on national and departmental roads. We were based in Cancale for our 10-day Brittany trip and did day trips in the car from here.
Train from Paris
There is no train service directly to Cancale. But there are 2 options with a train/bus combo. There is a TGV from the Gare Montparnasse (Paris) that goes through Rennes, the capital of Brittany and then a second train to Saint-Malo where you make a quick transfer to a bus for a 30-minute ride to Cancale. The other option is a direct train from Paris to St-Malo and then the 30-minute bus to Cancale. Of course, the train going through Rennes adds 30 minutes but it all depends on what your schedule is as to which one will work best for you. Check out OuiSNCF for schedule information. I like all the options that Rome 2 Rio provides as well.
While you probably aren’t looking to hike the entire Sentier des Douaniers, you can really enjoy a great half-day or day of hiking by following the GR-34 on either side of Cancale. See that section in the information above!
Places to Visit Around Cancale
- Pointe du Grouin, a beautiful headland on the westernmost tip of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel with a gorgeous view. You can hike there on the GR34. There is a little island off the point, but it is a bird sanctuary, so off-limits
- Visit the medieval village of Dinan, in this town you will feel like you stepped into the Middle Ages and its just 30 minutes away.
- Check out the pirate town of Saint-Malo, 30-minutes from Cancale.
- Mont Saint-Michel, the UNESCO World Heritage medieval monastery built on top of a single rock cut off to the French coast at high tide is 1 hour from Cancale.
- Fougères another medieval fortress-of-a-town with a chateau and half-timbered homes 1-hour from Cancale.
- Fort La Latte, a historic 14th-century fort/chateau on the coast that is absolutely worth the 1-hour drive from Cancale.
- Cap Frehel – peninsula in Côtes-d’Armor with 2 well-known lighthouses, a 1-hour drive from Cancale.
Camera Equipment used in our Cancale photos
Photos that were taken by me were done so on an iPhone and Sony Cybershot RX100. If you mainly use your camera on “Auto” this is the camera for you (and me!)! I use 3 accessories: a Sony VCT-SGR1 Shooting Grip; and 2 straps: the Peak Design SLL-AS-3 Slide Lite Camera Strap, and the Peak Design CL-2 Clutch Camera Hand Strap. I used my Osprey 18 backpack (the closest thing to it) to carry my stuff. For the photos taken by Mr. Misadventures (anything with a Sel & Poivre Photography watermark), the real pro in the household, he used his Sony A7RIII and the following lenses: Sony FE 12-24mm. Under some photos, we have provided the lens and aperture information. There are some older photos from our trip in 2010 and 2012 that were taken with his old Canon 5D Mark II. His camera equipment was carried around in a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L backpack.
How about you? Have you been to Cancale? Or other parts of Brittany in France? Do share! If not, have I inspired you to visit? Do tell!